Cannabis activists in California are likely suffering from tendonitis from all of the petitions they've needed to sign. As of the end of November, there were 18 proposals to legalize recreational cannabis in California. Of those, nine have been approved to gather the 365,880 signatures required to make it onto the 2016 ballot.
But the frontrunner has been clear since Nov. 2, when the California Adult Use of Marijuana Act (a.k.a. "the Sean Parker initiative") debuted. The measure is backed by Parker, the billionaire famous for founding Napster, investing in Facebook and being portrayed by Justin Timberlake in "The Social Network."
So what would legalization look like under this framework? Like most proposals, the CAUM Act would allow Californians aged 21 or over to carry one ounce of flower, grow a limited number of plants at home (up to 6 per residence in this case) and buy flower, extracts, concentrates and edibles at licensed retailers.
But the 88-page initiative also adds a lot of details that haven't appeared in other proposals. Here are five things that make this initiative distinct.
1. The Social Network Likes Social Justice
Cannabis is legal in four American states, but many residents are still haunted by prohibition due to cannabis offences on their criminal records. The only legal state offering a clean slate is Oregon, which opened "expungement clinics" in 2015 for residents with marijuana misdemeanors and minor felonies. In 2016, the state plans to offer expungement for more serious felonies.
But there's no relief on the horizon for former cannabis offenders in Alaska, Colorado and Washington state.
Criminal records can have devastating effects on people's lives - preventing them from getting jobs, housing, loans and even volunteer positions. The situation is particularly frustrating for residents still punished for something that is now legal in their home states.
Parker's initiative would spare Californians from legal limbo by including measures to apply the new cannabis laws retroactively. That means residents could begin applying for a fresh start as soon as the act became law.
2. Shatter-Proof Regulations
The Parker initiative includes more types of licenses than any legalization measure to date. There are five cultivation licenses based on the size (i.e. square-footage) of the grow site and whether it's indoors or outdoors.
On top of that, there are 6 types of commercial licenses, which cover retail, distribution, microbusiness (i.e. very small growers that act as their own distributor and retailer), testers, non-volatile solvent manufacturers and volatile solvent manufacturers.
That last type of license means that the production of concentrates such as honeycomb and shatter will be tightly regulated. Concentrates have received a lot of bad press because producing them involves using chemicals like butane, which can cause fires and explosions.
Despite that rep, concentrates are growing in popularity. So the Parker initiative is showing solid social responsibility by ensuring that concentrates are produced in a safe and controlled manner.
3. Keeping Sales and Science Separate
The CAUM Act allows people to hold multiple licenses - except for those operating labs for product testing. Testers can only be testers. That stipulation could win Ralph Nader's approval.
During Marijuana Business Daily's 4th Annual Conference and Expo in Las Vegas, the former presidential candidate and consumer advocate called on members of the cannabis industry to hold themselves to a higher code of ethics by allowing independent testers to oversee the industry.
Dealing with independent testers can be a hassle, but Nader argues that it's worth the frustration if it helps the cannabis industry avoid a disaster like the Volkswagen emissions scandal: "Why do you think this happened? It's because under federal law, they allowed private labs to do the testing," Nader said. "Watch out for control of these labs by your industry. That's when the problems are going to start."
Parker's initiative heeds that advice by keeping the testing labs and businesses separate.
4. Brunching with Your Best Buds
California will become the second state to host cannabis cafes if the CAUM Act becomes law.
Alaska made history on Nov. 20 by legalizing cannabis cafes as part of the state's finalized regulations. Public consumption is strictly prohibited in the other legal states, which frustrates tourists who can't enjoy any cannabis while visiting Colorado, Oregon or Washington state unless locals invite them over for a puff.
But pot cafes weren't part of Alaska's original legislation, and much legal wrangling went into allowing them to operate: basically, the state's regulators didn't want any public use of any kind, but they conceded due to overwhelming pressure from Alaskans.
Parker's initiative would sidestep that hassle by making onsite smoking, vaping and edible-ing part of the law.
5. Brand Recognition
One easy-to-overlook regulation is that cannabis grown in one region can't be named after another. So a grower in Fresno County can't name his crop something like, "San Diego Sunset."
As Russ Belville notes, that means famous growing areas like Mendocino and Humboldt will be protected from unscrupulous marketers using each county's name to boost sales. It's almost like copyright protection for cannabis strains, which is somewhat ironic coming from the infamous Napster founder.